ACLU Challenges Coercive Police Interrogation of Students at Davis High School

School authorities failed to inform students of their rights or notify parents

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ACLU of Northern CA

Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) urged the Davis Joint Unified School District to protect students from coercive police interrogations on campus. This comes after three instances in which the editor of the school paper and an A.P. Calculus student were subjected to unlawful questioning.

Alana de Hinojosa, a student journalist and former editor in chief of the Davis High School newspaper, was pulled out of class on two separate occasions in May and questioned by police. School officials confiscated her cell phone and did not allow de Hinojosa to call her parents before or during the interrogation. De Hinojosa had recently published an article in the school paper about local graffiti artists who deface public property.

To de Hinojosa's surprise, school officials were complicit with police attempts to get her to reveal the identities of her sources by using threats and intimidation. She was not was not under suspicion of any wrongdoing, but police vigorously questioned her against her will and in violation of her rights.

"I wasn't a criminal suspect, and yet I wasn't afforded the rights of someone who is suspected of a crime," said De Hinojosa.

Another student, a former police cadet, was pulled out of his A.P. Calculus class while taking an exam to be interrogated about off-campus graffiti. His cell phone was also confiscated. He had recently worked on a documentary about graffiti, which won an award at a student film festival.

During the interrogations, neither student was informed of their right not to answer questions, or advised that they were free to leave the room.

"The school crossed the line and broke the law," said Linda Lye, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "We have grave concerns that the school would allow police officers to remove students from class, subject them to coercive interrogations and intimidation, and seize their belongings."

The ACLU of Northern California's letter to the District and Superintendent Winfred B. Roberson, Jr., explains that the manner in which the authorities detained and interrogated the students violated several of the students' constitutional rights, including the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures. The letter points out that there was no justification for interrupting the students' classroom instruction because the subject of the police officers' investigation related to purely off-campus graffiti and did not further the school's educational mission.

The ACLU of Northern California and the families of the students are asking the Davis Joint Unified School District to:

  • Revise existing policies on police interrogations;
  • Train school personnel about students' rights with respect to law enforcement officers;
  • Advise students of their rights with respect to law enforcement officers before any on-campus police interrogations;
  • Prohibit law enforcement personnel from interrogating students on District property without first obtaining parental consent.

"We expect our schools to educate our children, not criminalize them," said Lye.

Learn more:

Letter from the ACLU to the Davis Joint Unified School District (PDF)
Article by Alana de Hinojosa (PDF)

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